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Florentine Mulsant

From Ushant Island to Armenia

Isabelle Duval, flute
Asako Yoshida, piano
Lise Berthaud, viola
Stéphanie Carne, clarinet
Trio Tchaïka: Elena Khabarova, violin / Sofiya Shapiro, cello
Alexandra Matvievskaya, piano
Ingrid Schoenlaub, cello
The National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, conducted by Vahan Mardirossian


Isabelle Duval, flute
Asako Yoshida, piano


Lise Berthaud, violin


Stéphanie Carne, clarinet
Trio Tchaïka: Elena Khabarova, violin / Sofiya Shapiro, cello
Alexandra Matvievskaya, piano


Ingrid Schoenlaub, cello


The National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, conducted by Vahan Mardirossian

Recorded in Armenia

Total playing time: 68'14

AR RE-SE 2017-1

Whithout correctness of the expression, no poetry.

Théodore de Banville (1823-1891), Petit Traité de Poésie Française.

Approaching the musical style of a composer is always a complex process. In order to classify it we very frequently assimilate which is a patient work of marquetry to an inventory of some technical tools. Yet, if the latter satisfy an immediate feeling of understanding, they reveal everything but the main part, worth knowing how the composer use them. More than the technical arguments in themselves, it sets out the way the musician requests them who says a lot aboutthis riddle that is always a style.

In the case of Florentine Mulsant (born in 1962), the technique is present, naturally, as a mastered necessity, but is strictly subordinated, as the formal construction, to the meaning necessity or to the poetic flight. Neither the language, nor any choice about the musical form, about the construction of the lines arises as an end in itself; all intervene as the outcome of an emotional quest. From there to imagining Florentine Mulsant's style as a smiling eclecticism, there would be only a step, which would reveal from us an at least superficial listening. The art of the composer could not be reduced neither in the anatomical description of its technical bases, nor in an inconstancy in the choice of these bases. The firmness of lines, the attachment in an intervallic and melodic perception, the sense cultivated by a harmonic color, place Florentine Mulsant in the continuation of the French School of the 20thcentury, from Maurice Ravel ( 1875-1937 ) to Henri Dutilleux ( 1916-2013 ). Nevertheless, we will not reach the appeal to sound or mathematical spells which would divert the listener of the fundamental meaning initiative: they are in a total adequacy with the poetic of the work if they appear. Another constant of this style, the modesty which is so obvious in the works of the present recital and her other works. The intensity of a feeling comes from the perfect control of his exposure. Its depth will more surely affect the listener if a part will be left with the art of the understatement, in feelings rather suggested than detailed. This does not a shy music or wisely sheltered in the halftone; it affects the heart and, it without any hyperbole, the most extreme sweetness or the most direct fierceness. Nothing of it which is human remains to it foreign. But she ignores deliberately the indulgence or the ease which make of the pathos a presentable outer garment, so skillful it is. If she makes use of post-serial elements, of a free atonalism, or of more marked sound polarities, Florentine Mulsant never loses sight of these necessities which show as much the constancy of a requirement as the righteousness of an artistic commitment in which the heart manages the intellect without these two dimensions never ignore.

The Variations for flute and piano op. 11 (1995) are a testimony of plasticity and formal requirement. The work arises from a first version for clarinet and harp (1990), and exists in another one for clarinet and piano, as well as an ultimate one for cello and harp (2006). The ductility of the melodic line connects her, without submission none, with the lineage stemming from ultimate sonatas (1915, 1916-1917) by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). The theme appears at the same time as flexible one cantilena and an interval container (tone, third minor, semitone, tritone, fourth and fifth) which the flute is going to present successively in several contexts, with sometimes an inversion of the direction of the intervals. The piano makes listen in harmonic aggregates the same contracted material. The Variation I proposes a pointillist explosion of the theme, cut in characteristic intervals, with a tight dialogue of both instruments, playing almost in relay one of the other one. More talkative, the Variation II is based on the lines in semi and demisemiquavers of the end of the theme, while pursuing the work on the founding intervals of the latter. This element of coherence registers the variation in an euphonious quasi-modal color: the opposition between dissonance and consonance, between tension and resolution, which establishes the tonal language, gives way in front of an art of the cameo, in which the sound aggregates appear as gradations of a dominant color. The game of exchange goes densifying until a slower breath, preceding a final surge which seems to suspend time, as in the air the crystal cage into which the fairy Viviane locks the enchanter Merlin. The Variation III appears as the heart of the work. If the basic material (the real theme, in a way) is eminently present, it can almost be forgotten for the benefit of a dreamy intensity: a quasi-choral by the piano supporting a flute line, which passes of the hesitation in the deployment, pulling a more steady, tenser speech which, of itself, calms down finally without having broken the dreamlike climate. After a virtuoso toccata in dialogue in the Variation IV, fed by malice and by alacrity, the Variation V makes to the theme a strengthened primitive identity, solemnized by doublings (flute and left hand of the piano) and imitative effects. The original element seems to occupy the whole space, in a subtle game of halvings, reflections and brilliances which dissolves, as fray the shreds of a dream in which connect affectedly the awake sleeper, in an ultimate and mysterious echo.

It will have been necessary to wait for the 20th century so that the viola finally sees awarding its first letters patents, via the concertos composed William Walton (1902-1981), Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) or Béla Bartók (1881-1945). The instrument offers nevertheless a very wide pallet, as well from the point of view of the sound possibilities as on the meaning variety, without the help of an orchestra or a partner chamber-music player. Vocalise for viola op. 53 (2014), dedicated to its creator Lise Berthaud, establishes at the same time a brilliant solo of concert and a strictly structured sequence by three linked movements. The unity of the work is settled onn mélodico-rhythmic motives whose the composer uses with a visible fantasia, underlined by the frequent alternations of tempi and by an almost imposed rubato. The viola is alternately made grave, light, poet, tragic actor, wicked, but always provider of the characteristic lyric of the art of Florentine Mulsant: sober, intense and discreet as much as deep. The word vocalise, if it clearly explains the importance given here to the melodic parameter, should not be taken in its meaning of exercise or accommodating writing. The technical virtuosity (whom never the composer gives up) never removes the interiority, and we stand in front of a poetry without words, summarizing in his three sections the diversity of the human soul, from passion to contemplation.

The Quartet " In Jubilo " op. 22 (1999, revised in 2002), dedicated to the clarinetist Stéphanie Carne, is written for a rare instrumental staff, uniting clarinet in B flat, violin, cello and piano , which offers to the composer a large palette of sound material. Three sections will follow, whose first one is, in fact, a series of linked variations, quite supported by the harmonic echoes of the piano (pushed, held, but not played touches in the lower range).

Here still, the notion of theme is totally perceptible, but felt as a melodic continuum and as an interval series. The piano acts as a sound envelope of what expose the other instruments, haloing them with a harmonic halo. The musical form remains precise and clear because of the coherence of the material: the constituent elements of the halo and the theme itself are completely convergent. The transparency of the writing is a deep necessity, which never Florentine Mulsant gives up. Seven variations are linked, with a drastic conciseness and a progressive intensification of the dynamic pallet, from the hieratic initial presentation to the most splendid perpetual motion. The central section turns to the contrapuntal technique, with a series of imitations entrances (cello, left hand of the piano, clarinet, violin in the initial part) based on a repetitive melodic and rhythmic motive. Once again, the melodic requested intervals (an encounter between just fourths and fifths on one hand, altered fourths and fifths on the other hand) resume the musical material inherent to the previous section. The second part again presents some elements of the first section (the tritonic material in particular), while densifying the game of inter-instrumental exchange, which presents a real mosaic of dynamics. The counterpoint, first presented as according to his most classic meaning, a horizontal management of the voices, (where from the imitative technique), becomes little by little a colored and quasi-playful approach. We are invited to a sonorities counterpoint, in which the mastered technique is used as a communicative expressiveness, an art hiding the art itself, according to the principle of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) . The last section closes the work in a more secrete color. The piano conducts a dialogue based on a falling scale, itself established by an aggregate of minor thirds. The long rhythm values of the piano build a harmonious echo of this mode, which seems to abolish the dissonance. Other instruments are going to impose little by little to this motive a rising ascending outline which is going to become widespread, like in the beginning of the first section. In a dreamy transparency, the work ends almost as a cycle. If jubilation there is, as the title suggests him explicitly, it holds at the same time of an enjoyment to create, of an outside demonstration, and of a more secret approach, which clearly appears in the last section.

The Suite for cello op. 41 (2012 ) is explicitly placed in a double downline, from the first six ones by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) devolved to the instrument, to the three ones by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), composed for Mstislav Rostropovitch (1927-2007) respectively in 1964, 1967 and 1971, in tribute to those of his illustrious predecessor. No more than in Britten works, it will be here question of pastiche or stylistic copying. Florentine Mulsant does not practice the composition as a neo-baroque art.

The Suite finds its unity in a deep emotion. The thematic material is based on notes D – A – C – F, corresponding to the letters of the first name PAUL, son of the composer, who died in 2011. The first section again uses the technique of the variation liked by the composer: the initial statement of the theme (repeated, with modification of the last melodic interval) is followed by six linked variations, which deploy little by little the brief rhythmic values. Far from being self-absorbed on a bemoaning, the movement deploys in a bright climate which moderates, without ever obscure it, a gravity which is only more fascinating to be underlying. The second section is completely played pizzicati and is marked by an impulsive enjoyment. The material uses and transforms what the last bars of the previous movement had presented, and the section has an ABA ' form, like a scherzo. The Fugue which follows sets out its subject on the letters of the first name PAUL, each being marked by a long rhythm value in the beginning of the bar, with a melodic comment between them. In spite of the technical difficulty inherent to the monodic character of the instrument, which is used here as a polyphonic one , the transparency here becomes cardinal virtue, serving the meaning progress until the strette, in the last third of the section, before the quiet presentation of the transposed subject, into the last bar.

Real beating heart of the Suite, the fourth section has a more melodic aspect, and is based on the presentation of the last bar of the Fugue, which becomes an ascending vibrating call, followed by a noble (in its dotted rhythms) and resigned ending. After a central section based on this ending, completed by harmonic or melodic fifths in the lower range , the initial theme reappears, little by little reduced to its essential fifth. The work does not close on a funeral color, so it is true as the presence of our missing loved ones is a bright trade one. Happiness wins at the end, in a mood close to the gigue, with always the omnipresence of first-name theme in a new presentation. The last five bars enclose the work on a quotation of the first section, meaning of a sweet presence which transcends the emotional feelings, and which makes of this Suite a vibrating work of intensity and modesty.

Despite her title, the Suite for string orchestra op. 42 (2012) is not a baroque pastiche. The contrast between the tempi in the five sections, their secret connexions make the work as dense as a symphony: she has from the baroque suite an attractive diversity which means no fragmented musical form or any thematic lack of cohesion. The first movement (crotchet = 56) exposes two different ideas :

  • the first one is based on an intervallic series, gradualy enlarged, which reaches little by little the higher register, before a rapid decrease. As often, Florentine Mulsant keeps a clear melodic line based on a frequently transposed intervallic material.
  • the second one, less talkative (bars 15-24 for the first exposition), seams to be more static, but the choice and the enlargement of the intervals, the thematic varied repetition connect her to the previous one; so that the two themes are the faces of a same identity.

Preferring here a fast thematic alternation to a classic development, Florentine Mulsant makes of this confrontation the formal base of the movement, before the music turns back to silence. More quiet, the next movement begins with light oscillations of the violins and violas, which accompany a theme, first played by the cellos and double basses, coming from the first idea in the previous movement, which presents an extended ending. A transitional element connects the transposed returns of the theme, that uses the composer loved half tone distant fourth. First proposed in an homorythmic and harmonic configuration, the theme is little by little presented in contrapuntal imitations, intervallic variations, leading to an emotional climax, then to a discreet vibration of the violins I, ending this intense and mysterious page.

The very sharp third movement has the lightness of a mendelssohnian scherzo. The transitional motive of the second movement is still present, with the half tone oscillations which already marked the initial idea in the first one, as well as the intervals on which were based the main themes in the previous sections. The word Suite does not mean a lack of cohesion in the musical material; the themes are clearly related, as Florentine Mulsant does in all her works. Mentioned as Très expressif (Very expressive), the fourth movement presents a generous theme with obsessing rhythm, progressing in gradual phases and working on the same intervals as the previous sections. The section is a succession of melodic arabesques presenting the same theme from low pitch to high or to the medium. The rhythmic ostinato gives the movement a haunting and litanic aspect. The last movement summarizes all the material presented in the work in a full of surprises dialogue. The transparency of the texture and the clarity of the form end the work in an explosion of light.

Subtlety and discretion, frankness and modesty, clearness and deep elaboration of the structure, melodic outline and great importance of the melodic intervals, Florentine Mulsant's style unites seemingly antithetic realities. It is an alliance and not a marriage of convenience, which is realized with simplicity and sincerity. This exciting and secret consubstantiality is the soul of the style of an eminent composer of contemporary French music, of whom the present recital which offers an interesting view, for our real happiness.

Lionel Pons

Read how the artist speaks about it !

«  Subtlety and discretion, frankness and modesty, clearness and deep elaboration of the structure, melodic outline and great importance of the melodic intervals, Florentine Mulsant's style unites seemingly antithetic realities. It is an alliance and not a marriage of convenience, which is realized with simplicity and sincerity. This exciting and secret consubstantiality is the soul of the style of an eminent composer of contemporary French music, of whom the present recital which offers an interesting view, for our real happiness. »

Lionel Pons